Florida Panther Population Estimated to Exceed Previous Years

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Haley McKey, 202-772-0247, hmckey@defenders.org

 

TALLAHASSEE, FL (February 22, 2017) – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the panther population range estimate for adults and sub-adults in south Florida will be raised from 100-180 to 120-230.

While Florida panthers are recovering, they still face serious challenges, including loss of habitat and wildlife corridors they need to expand their range, road mortality and lack of human tolerance that can lead to conflict.

Statement from Southeast Program Director Ben Prater:

“This population increase is great news for the iconic Florida panther, but it’s tinged with tragedy: the death toll of 34 Florida panthers killed on roads in 2016 broke all previous records. Federal, state and private conservation efforts have brought Florida panthers back from the brink of extinction, but there’s still a lot more work to be done.

 “It is our hope that with continued recovery efforts and secure protections, we will see a new generation of Florida panthers re-establishing their historical territory in 2017 and beyond.”

 

 

Background:

·         The Florida panther is the last subspecies of Puma still surviving in the eastern U.S. Historically occurring throughout the Southeast, today the panther is restricted to less than five percent of its original range in one breeding population

·         Florida panthers had nearly disappeared by 1967 and began to recover after intervention from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the help of private conservation organizations, such as Defenders of Wildlife.

·         Defenders is a leader in efforts to conserve panther habitat, reduce road mortality and increase public tolerance. Defenders is the conservation representative on the Florida Panther Recovery Implementation Team that is working to further panther recovery efforts.

·         While the panther population is growing, so is the number of Florida panther road mortalities: a record 34 panthers were killed on roads in Florida in 2016. Wildlife crossings and slow speed zones are vital to reducing this death toll.

·         The greatest threat to Florida panthers is habitat loss and fragmentation. Expansion of national wildlife refuges and other public conservation lands, protection of private lands and innovative land development plans like the Eastern Collier Habitat Conservation Plan can help preserve the habitat and wildlife corridors they need to survive.

·         In November of 2016, the first female Florida panther was spotted north of the Caloosahatchee River in more 40 years, a milestone for the species that needs to expand its breeding population northward from south Florida. As Florida panthers continue to expand back into their historical range, coexistence efforts will be needed to ensure tolerance between ranchers and other landowners and Florida panthers repatriating original habitat areas.

·         As one of the fastest-developing states in the nation, Florida becomes a more difficult place for wide-ranging species like panthers to survive. We must protect and restore the core and connective areas of habitat they need, establish more wildlife crossings and slow speed zones on roads and promote coexistence to reduce conflict between landowners and panthers.

 

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